Silverstone Test and Race – Friday 18th October – Sunday 20th August:
It had been a while since I had been in the car, 2 ½ months in fact, as I had missed the Oulton Park round of the championship to go on holiday with my wife. As a result I felt a little rusty and out of practice before the final round of the championship at Silverstone, but a day checking and cleaning the car helped me to get my head back into race mode. A day at Silverstone testing was always going to be required to blow the cobwebs away, especially as I had never driven the track before and in theory I still had a shot at the championship win, despite missing the Oulton Park round.
I had promised my children that we would hire a camper van for Silverstone (they always love playing in the other vans in the paddock), but after a day of phoning around and being unable to find anything with a tow bar I was getting a little desperate. In the end I managed to borrow one from a very generous friend just up the road from Silverstone, but this meant Thursday night was spent rushing around loading the car, collecting the trailer, driving to collect the campervan, etc., etc. Not the ideal way to start a race weekend in other words! In the end I got to Silverstone at about 11pm on Thursday evening, just in time to roll the car off the trailer and into the garage, before catching a few of the boys for a quick drink after their day’s testing.
After a restless night in the camper Friday morning dawned damp and overcast. In fact the track was sopping wet, so I went for a soft set-up on the car, using the Orange front ARB and the softest setting at the rear to try and generate better turn in and traction. I had only used this set-up once before, for qualifying at Anglesea, and it had been a disaster, so was a bit of a gamble. During the first 45 minute session I spent the majority of my time trying to find the wet lines. These were obvious at certain corners like Stowe but at others, like Vale, there seemed to be no grip anywhere at all. My v-box wasn’t picking up the start/finish timer, so I didn’t know how well I was going, but the car felt great and I felt pleased with my pace, compared to those around me.
By the second session the track had started to dry and my wet set-up felt horrible on the dry line, so I came in well before the end, feeling that I wasn’t learning anything useful and that I would rather save myself, the tyres and the car than continue at this stage.
Having stiffened the car back up over the lunch break for the third session, which was now on a dry track, I went out to see what my ultimate pace would be. With a working v-box I was now able to see where I was making and losing time, ultimately working down to a 1 min 20 second lap, which seemed to be in the right ball park given the amount of time I had on track.
For the final session I left the car as it was and tried to work away at the fractions that I knew were still there, particularly at Vale, where I knew I was over driving the car and losing lots of time. To my frustration I couldn’t get below 1 min 20 seconds, which showed I wasn’t improving, but more importantly that I was over a second off the fastest guys (Stephen Nuttall having done a 1 min 18.8 second lap the previous day). I was a little disheartened that evening and spent another restless night wondering what Saturday would bring. I needn’t have worried too much.
Saturday Qualifying and Race 1:
Saturday dawned wet and overcast again, which was something of a relief as I knew it would be a real performance leveller. I wouldn’t claim to be particularly good in the wet, but I don’t mind it and knew that it would throw up a few surprises in qualifying.
I spent the morning softening the suspension settings back off from the previous day (I was getting quite adept at this by now) and giving the car a general check over to ensure everything was in order. The facilities in the new Silverstone paddock making this no chore at all as we had all been allocated garage space in the Wing complex and, with enough room for at least 8 cars in each garage, we had plenty clean and well serviced space to work in.
As we got closer to qualifying there was the usual scramble for position in the holding area, with many arriving 45 minutes ahead of our allotted time, which always amuses me greatly. I was about 10th in line and wondering whether this was going to cause me a problem, with a number of slower cars in front and the potential to be held up. In the end I managed to cut through the traffic within 2 laps and found myself in clear air trying to chase down Stephen Nuttall and Peter Fortune, my two main championship competitors, who were off out front. I didn’t manage it, but neither was I being left behind, holding a steady gap that gave me confidence for a good qualifying position. In the end I managed to secure a 1 min 33.26 second lap, which was good enough for 3rd place. Peter was on pole almost a second ahead and Stephen just behind, so I was pretty happy overall and certainly in a better mood than I had been at the end of the day before.
Back in the paddock there was plenty to keep me occupied before the race. As the morning wore on a dry line started appearing on the track, so I decided to go back to a full stiff set-up, and to give the car another quick check over just in case. I also had a few visitors arriving, including my mother who hadn’t been to any of my races so far and I think was starting to feel slightly guilty (she isn’t naturally given to motorsport, having once fallen asleep at a classic car meeting at Brands Hatch). It was lovely to see everyone, but I always feel quite torn between needing/wanting to spend time with them and focusing my time on getting myself and the car ready.
As the race approached I was feeling more relaxed than I had done all year. Theoretically I could still win the championship, but realistically I knew that was going to be a very long shot. Second was a more realistic target, but having missed the two races at Oulton I knew that was also going to be a stretch, so I focused on having a good race and not doing any damage to the car.
As I drew up at the start line 3rd place suddenly started to look like a bad place to be. Whilst there was a dry line around the circuit, off-line it was still very damp and in 3rd place I was very definitely off-line for the start. As the lights went out I tried to leave the line smoothly, but was swamped by those starting on the dry line behind me, as my rear wheels struggled to find grip on the wet track. I went from 3rd to 6th place in an instant, which meant I was in the middle of the action from the very beginning. I tried to make it all back up again going into Village on lap 1, but was on the wet line and had no grip, meaning I ran wide and lost all the places I had just gained. Out onto the Hanger Straight I was still in 6th place, with the 5 cars in front running side by side towards Stow. I was passed by Simon Ledger and pushed down into 7th place, but as we went into Stow I ran around the outside of Tristan Judge for 6th place, out braked Simon Ledger into Vale for 5th place and got a run on Max Robinson out of Club into 4th place. As we started the second lap I got a run on Paul Croll for 3rd place, only to find a Safety Car had been deployed and that I needed to give the place back. It had been a hectic first lap.
We followed the safety car for three laps as the marshals cleared up three broken cars that had come together on the first lap in the mid-field. Unfortunately the cars were a real mess, but the drivers were thankfully ok. As the safety car peeled in I got a good run on Paul Croll again and finally got past for 3rd place going into Abbey. It took me a lap to catch Stephen and Pete, but as I did I was determined not to get wrapped up in a battle that would slow us all down and allow those behind to catch-up (I had done that too many times already this year). Towards the end of the 7th lap Pete got the tow past Stephen on the Hanger Straight and I made my move on Stephen around the outside at Stowe. Stephen then came back at me around the outside at Vale, pushing me wide on the exit and onto the wet AstroTurf. For a second or so I was very sideways and almost spun, but held it together and got back on the track having lost a couple of seconds to the leading two. It took another lap to catch them again and then the gloves were off….Pete, Stephen and I swapping places every few corners, lap after lap, and slowing each other down, which enabled Max Robinson to catch us and join in the fun.
From that point until the finish the 4 of us swapped places every few corners, until on the last lap I got the drag on Peter and Stephen down the Hanger Straight and into Stow. With 3 corners left I was in the lead. However I out braked myself into Vale, as I had been doing all weekend, and ran wide allowing Peter and Stephen back through and only just salvaging a 3rd place finish from Max. It was a good result, but was a real missed opportunity.
I had enjoyed the close racing immensely, but was really annoyed with myself for having thrown away an almost certain win, so it was with mixed emotions I parked the car up in Parc Ferme and mounted the podium to join Stephen as he was crowned a very worth Roadsport Champion.
That night, we made the most of the brilliant facilities and had a gathering of friends and family together in our garage for a BBQ and beers amongst our cars. In and amongst it all we shared stories of the race and talked about what we were all going to do next year. The children chased each other around on scooters and I sat thinking about whether I could really imagine not racing again next year. The camaraderie and friendship being as good, if not better than the racing we had all enjoyed.
Sunday Race 2:
The following day dawned equally damp and overcast causing more discussion amongst the Roadsport drivers as to the optimal set-up. Our race was late morning and whilst the track was likely to dry before we went out, I didn’t think it would dry completely and that off-line it was likely to remain wet. As such I made my switch to a wet set-up early on and enjoyed a relaxed start to the day.
Having won the championship the day before and with nothing to gain from competing, except possibly damaging his car and losing points, Stephen decided to sit out the final race of the season. It was a real shame, but perfectly understandable. This meant I was promoted to 2nd place on the grid….something I wasn’t going to complain about.
As the start grew closer the clouds grew darker and as we drew up on the grid itself it had started to rain lightly. The soft set-up looked to be a good choice. As the lights went out I made a good start and dived into Abbey in first place, which I would hold for 5 laps. I managed to pull enough of a gap in the first few corners to allow me to break away from the chasing pack which Pete, who had started on pole, had got stuck in. I was driving sensibly, not taking any real risks on the wet track, but also not making enough of the gap I had started to build. I spent too much time looking in my mirrors being slightly too cautious, so as he broke away from the chasing group Pete reeled me in. On lap 6 normal service was resumed and we had started battling again.
Each lap Pete and I would exchange places at least once, but managed to do it in such a way that we were not holding each other up and continued to pull a gap on those behind. Having looked at the videos from some of these cars afterwards I am glad, as it was absolute carnage with far too much body contact to be acceptable. As we came into the second to last lap we caught Bronek Masojada and as we went to lap him Pete went one way and got baulked and I went the other way and got through. This gave me a second or so and allowed me the breathing space I needed. For those last 2 laps I kept it as clean and tidy as I could, not wanting to throw away another win. As we went into Vale for the last time I was even more cautious than I had been all weekend, with Pete all over the back of me, but I had position and he wasn’t going to come past. As we crossed the finish line there was 3/100th’s of a second between us.
I was ecstatic. I had come 3rd in the championship behind two fantastic drivers, and now great mates, and had bookended my year with a win at both Snetterton and Silverstone. It couldn’t have been a better finish to the year.
After the joy of the podium I got back to the paddock to celebrate with friends and family, but the mood was a little bit more subdued than usual. There had been quite a lot of contact throughout the field, more so than in any previous race, and there were a number of cars with significant chassis damage and many more with bodywork damage which had been caused by some silly behaviour as well as the usual racing incidents. It was a real shame as over the last couple of years there has been surprisingly little damage given the closeness of the racing. It will resolve itself, but it was a bit of a shame none the less.
It did however make me reflect on how lucky I have been overall. In 2 years of racing the total damage to my car has been:
-1 x replacement front cycle wing – Flew off of its own accord at Graham Hill Bend, Brands Hatch, but was salvaged and re-used
-1 x replacement rear wing – ripped off by the gravel at Paddock Hill Bend, Brands Hatch as a result of my mistake
-1 x cracked rear wing – still on the car, but slightly battered from a couple of love taps from Peter and Stephen
-1 x cracked nose cone – still on the car, but slightly battered from a love tap with Peter at Paddock Hill Bend, Brands Hatch
-1 x chipped windscreen – still original (I think some of the drivers are on their 5th!)
-1 x replacement gearbox – considered normal during a seasons racing
There has been no chassis, suspension or metalwork damage to the car at all, which my bank manager and I am thoroughly relieved about. With £300 worth of glassfibre from Caterham the car will look almost as good as it did the day I finished building it. After 2 hard years of racing that is something I am almost as proud of as the race results themselves!
The Silverstone Roadsport races weren’t quite the end of the year. The following weekend I drove the car up to Silverstone again, to compete in the 750 MCC Birkett 6 hour race, where our team of 6 (Tristan Judge, Zoltan Csabi, Scott Lawrence, Tom Woodcock, Jason Gale and I) came a respectable 8th overall and 4th in class on handicap. Sharing the full GP circuit with 60 other cars, from a Smart 4/2, to a Radical SR8, was a fantastic and really eye opening experience. After that the car was given some love and TLC, before finally being tucked up in the garage for the winter.
The annual Caterham Motorsport Awards Dinner was held at the end of November and was a final chance to catch-up with friends before Christmas. As I write this I am honestly not sure what I will be doing next year. I know for sure that I won’t be back to do a full year in Tracksport (the next championship up from Roadsport, but I am currently tempted by the Graduates championship). Already being time poor, but with major building work planned on our house likely to make me cash poor, I am not sure I could realistically do much at all. Having said that I now have the racing bug so badly, the thought of not doing anything at all genuinely upsets me. I will keep the car no matter what I do, it is part of the family, so I just need to find a way of getting my racing kicks without having to give up quite so much time.
Brands Hatch Test and Race – Friday 26th July – Sunday 04th August:
I came back from Donington thinking that it was probably my last race of my season, but the following week my wife and I sat down and talked it through and agreed that I should finish off the year and that we should have a good chat about what I would do the following year. The compromise is that I will miss the Oulton Park weekend and spend the weekend in Portugal with her, minus the children. As far as I am concerned it is a sacrifice well worth making. Whilst currently 2nd in the championship, I really don’t care that much about it, it is the racing and the results over the course of the weekend that excite me more. Without my wife’s support I wouldn’t be doing any of this and a weekend away in Portugal isn’t exactly a hardship is it?
Having not had much time with Ben Clucas at Donington I decided to book his services again for Brands Hatch. We were scheduled to test on Friday 26th July, along with half of the Brit Car series it seemed. This meant I spent a day dodging Porsche 911, Ferrari 458 and Aston Martin GT3 cars, which were unbelievably quick along the straights, but actually not a huge amount quicker through the corners.
The first session with Ben was a disaster. He was sat beside me and I drove like an idiot…his feedback was so overwhelming that I actually got worse and worse throughout the session as I tried to process it all and put it into action. The key challenge was my feel for the brake pedal, which I was treating as a binary instrument and this was upsetting the balance of the car. The one positive was that Ben says I have great car control, but that I was relying on it too much to get me out of trouble.
During the second session Ben took me out and showed me how it should be done, before coming back in and giving me a few laps on my own to try and put into practice what he taught me earlier. As soon as I was out on my own I started to feel as though I were driving better again; more smoothly and consistently, upsetting the car less during braking into and being more accurate with my acceleration out of each corner.
For the third session I went out again on my own to push for a time, eventually getting down into the low 56 second bracket, which was OK, but barely any quicker than I had been in the Academy the previous year. Once I felt I had gone as quickly as I could I handed back to Ben to set a benchmark time, which he did at 55.8 seconds, some way off what he is capable of but reflective of what was possible on a very hot day. Once back in the pits we looked at where I was losing time to Ben, which was mainly at Paddock Hill and Graham Hill bends.
During the final session I tried to put all I had learnt into practice and chipped away at my times until I managed a best of 55.9 seconds, just 0.1 seconds off Ben’s time. Shortly afterwards I found my limit and ran through the gravel at Paddock Hill at high speed, during which time the gravel ripped my passenger side rear wing in half. I know these are considered disposable items, but I was really pissed off with myself as I was still running my original wings and was very proud of the fact that my car had suffered no damage to date.
It had been a very productive day and I had learnt a huge amount from Ben, who is an excellent, but demanding coach. He gave me a number of new things to consider and made me realise that I had been over driving the car this year, using good car control to hold it all together, but not actually allowing myself to go as quickly as I could. It would be interesting to see how it all came together during the race weekend.
The week before the race itself I spent preparing the car, bolting on a new rear wing, changing my wheels, checking it over and generally smartening it up. As always what I thought would be a couple of hours work turned into 5 or 6 hours very quickly, despite my best efforts and practice at such tasks.
Saturday Qualifying and Race 1:
On race day I got up at 5am and drove down to Brands Hatch for sign-on and scruitineering. We had an early qualifying slot, so I didn’t have a huge amount of time to get prepared and ready. I had friends coming to see me race, but as with Donington we were operating a three group system in Roadsport, so I wasn’t sure whether I would actually get to race on Saturday or not.
Qualifying itself was a really interesting affair, with 38 cars on the very compact Brands Hatch Indy circuit it was very, very busy, with little opportunity to find a gap and get a clean lap in. I felt as though I drove reasonably well, backing off and giving myself space when required, and eventually managing to find enough room to put a 55.48 second lap in, placing me 4th on the grid and 0.1 seconds behind pole man Pete Fortune. The upside was that this meant I would be racing on the Saturday in front of my friends, the downside was that in chasing that time I had taken another trip through the Paddock Hill gravel trap and ripped my brand new wing off! Luckily the Caterham team were on hand to sort it whilst I went to spend time watching the rest of qualifying with my mates.
As the time for the race drew nearer I started to get more and more worried that my car wouldn’t be ready. I had asked Caterham to look at the brakes, which were feeling very spongy, and when they did they noticed that the rear pads were shot. In the end I had a real panic and was strapped into the car in my race gear as the Caterham guys worked flat out to fit new pads and get me to the holding area just before the formation lap. They managed this, just, and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude and myself a big talking to for not checking the pads more recently. Even though they had been changed before Anglesey the new tyres give them a much harder workout than the old Academy tyres and I hadn’t checked them soon enough, which was a basic schoolboy error on my part…one that I won’t make again!
I arrived in the holding area for the first race last of all and only 5 minutes before we were due out on track. I would have to try and bed the pads in on the warm up lap and take it easy for a lap or two to get a feel for the braking performance. As it turned out I made an OK start from 3rd place and was 4th going through Paddock Hill Bend.I got a good run up to Druids and thought I would go around the outside of Nick Portlock who had braked early. This was going well until I hit the cement dust that had been put down to cover up oil dropped in the previous race and it was all I could do to hold the car on track. Luckily I only lost one place to Paul Croll.
A lap later Paul went very wide at Paddock Hill Bend and I managed to squeeze through, but was instantly passed by Mike Evans and under pressure from Tristan Judge. Tristan passed me later that lap on the start finish straight, but I dived straight back past again into Paddock Hill bend, but noticed rather late that I had done so under yellow flags, so gave the place back and had another go two laps later. I passed Mike the following lap, but my battle with Mike and Tristan allowed Peter Fortune, Zoltan Casabi and Nick Portlock to make a break and pull a bit of a gap. Catching them was one thing, but passing another. I tried again to go around the outside of Nick at Druids on lap 15 and again was compromised by the cement dust (I wasn’t learning).
In the end a safety car was brought out to cover the race whilst a number of cars were retrieved from the gravel at Paddock. At the re-start I tucked right in behind Nick and managed to drag past him and out brake him into Paddock Hill bend. I was in 3rd place with Zoli just in front. Two laps later I had got a better run out of Graham Hill bend and dragged past Zoli along the Cooper straight, just squeezing up the inside into Surtees. With 2 laps left to go I was in 2nd place and a second behind Pete. Realistically I knew I wouldn’t be able to pass and catch him in that time, so focused on consolidating my 2nd place and getting safely to the finish.
As I crossed the finish line I had a distinct feeling of snatching a good result from the jaws of defeat. I had made some silly mistakes that had sent me backwards down the field at the start and it was only luck that had seen me climb back up into contention again. Still a 2nd place and a fastest lap wasn’t a bad way to finish.
Once back in the paddock I packed up my things, said goodbye to my friends and headed straight off into London for a wedding. It wasn’t until I returned the following day with the family that I noticed my rear anti-roll bar had become detached. This had happened on the test day and after qualifying and had been causing the car to roll around a lot at the rear and make me work much harder than I should have to. I reattached the bar and completed my usual preparation before heading off to line up in 4th place for the second race.
Sunday Race 2:
I was determined to learn from my mistakes the previous day, so after a good start I slotted into 3rd place behind Pete Fortune and Stephen Nuttall and was determined not to try anything silly in the opening phases of the race. This worked well until Pete and Stephen started scrapping with each other on lap 4. Pete went up the inside of Stephen at Paddock Hill bend and came out at the bottom slightly wide and slow. This tempted me into the fight and I tried to go up the inside at Druids, but there wasn’t really room and I tagged Pete lightly, getting us both slightly crossed up, but thankfully causing no damage or loosing us too much time. I was now well and truly involved and my initial plan had gone out of the window. On lap 9 Pete and Steve started scrapping hard again, allowing me to close right in. I slipped up the inside of Steve at Clearways, but he passed both Pete and I at Paddock the next lap as we both ran wide. As the laps wore on the battle got more and more fierce and Pete’s lines through Paddock Hill more lurid. At one point he went in so wide and so hot that he held the most beautiful power slide all of the way down the hill. As I came past him on the run up to Druids I gave him the thumbs up in recognition. A few laps later he was passed again and still sliding around. As he hit the bottom of Paddock Hill he shot across right in front of my car and my nose cone hit his rear lights…there was nothing I could do to avoid it.
Our battling allowed Max Robinson to get back up to us after a poor start from 3rd place and as Pete ran wide again at Paddock, slowing me down mid-bend, Max came up the inside and passed me going into Druids. At this point we had been joined by Tony Mingoia, who I now had to manage closely from behind. Whilst great fun it was starting to get a little desperate. Stephen had used the opportunity to break free into clear air and had a lonely run to the line. I now watched at Pete and Max did battle for 2nd and 3rd, with Max getting the upper hand a couple of laps before the flag, up the inside into Surtees. Whilst right on his tail to the end, Pete crossed the line 3rd, just ahead of me, with Tony Mingoia a fraction behind.
It had been a hectic, scrappy race, but one where I felt I had made few mistakes. I hadn’t gone backwards at the start and felt that driven well, especially given that my rear anti-roll bar had once again come adrift causing more handling issues. I was disappointed not to come away with a podium, but more disappointed by the damage that I had done to my wing and nose over the weekend.My once immaculate 7 was now supporting a few cosmetic battle scars on its extremities, although thankfully nothing permanent.
It had been a good weekend with lots of friends and family present to watch. My car will need a good going over before the next race, but thankfully I have time given that I will be missing the Oulton Park round. I am slightly disappointed as it is supposed to be a fantastic track, but for me the next race will be the last of the year…roll on Silverstone.
Donington Test and Race – Wednesday 10th – Sunday 14th July:
My original plans for Donington fell apart just before lunchtime on Wednesday 10th when my gearbox decided it had had enough. Having been frustrated by a lack of running time at the Friday test days in Anglesey and Zandvoort I had decided to do a midweek track day and give the Friday test a miss. I was sharing a new tutor (Ben Clucas) with a fellow Roadsport competitor, Ian Sparshott, and had just familiarised myself with the track again and started to build up pace, when my gearbox got stuck in 4th gear. The crunch I had been experiencing changing from 3rd to 4th had been getting worse since Anglesey and the synchros decided that today was the day that they would finally pack in. I tried frantically to get a gearbox from Caterham and to see if one of the race teams present could change it and get me back out for the afternoon, but it was an ask too far. In the end I took the car back to Caterham Midlands, who worked on it the next day and had it ready for the Friday. I was also fortunate that Bookatrack, who were running both the Wednesday track day and the Friday test day, agreed to swap my Wednesday afternoon for a slot on Friday afternoon, so my preparation wasn’t as compromised as it could have been.
On the Friday, having spent the morning at school with Tabitha for her sharing assembly, I got in the car and drove up to Caterham Midlands to collect the car and trailer and be relieved of a large sum of money! I then drove up to Donington and got signed on for an afternoon of testing. It was a blisteringly hot day and the times a little down on what had been possible the Wednesday before, but I was driving much better thanks to some focused hints and tips from Ben that I had been mulling over for the last couple of days. The gearbox felt tight and certainly much better than it had been before it had expired, so the outlay had proved worthwhile, if painful. I had questioned Caterham on whether a gearbox should only last a season and a half of racing and was told that I was doing well…some of my fellow competitors were on gearbox number 3!
At the end of Friday afternoon my times were comparable with the faster guys there that day, but I knew there was more to come. Ben had posted a 1:22.6 second lap in my car on Wednesday and I was in the mid 1:23 second bracket. Even allowing for the heat that day, there was a good 0.5 seconds to be found. I mulled this over as I gave the car a good check over and clean, before packing away my things and heading back down to Daventry to stay with an old university friend and her husband. At this point I felt as though I was getting to know the M1 rather better than I would usually care to, but a thoroughly pleasant meal, a few beers and a comfy bed for the night certainly beat a night in a local hotel on my own.
Saturday Qualifying and Race 1:
On race day I was awoken at about 6am by my friend’s children, which somehow wasn’t quite as bad as being woken by my own. After a pleasant breakfast with them I made my way back up to the track for another scorching day in the paddock and qualifying.
Due to the number of Roadsport drivers exceeding the permissible number of cars on track, we would be split into 3 groups, each of which would race twice. Our qualifying position would determine whether we were Group A, B, or C (1st = A, 2nd = B 3rd = C, 4th = A etc.). Groups A vs. C would race each other on Saturday afternoon and Groups A vs. B and B vs. C on Sunday.
At the track I went through my usual routine fussing around the car, checking fluid levels, tyre pressures, wheel nuts etc., before going off to the weigh bridge to see what the car weighed with half a tank of fuel in. The weighbridge at Donington is a little on the antiquated side, but even still I was surprised to find that I was only just on the minimum weight limit (I am 14 ½ stone, so no featherweight) with half a tank of fuel in the car. I quickly returned back to the trailer and put another few litres of fuel in as ballast.
At around 10am I made my way to the holding area, about 30 mins before qualifying started, and was lined up 8th in the queue of cars. Sat in the car in fireproof underwear, a race suit, balaclava and helmet, with no shade I thought I was going to melt…at which point I seriously considered how the F1 guys manage a 2 hour race in the heat of somewhere exotic like Malaysia! Out onto track and I made my way quickly past a couple of cars and into what I thought was clean air, but after a couple of laps Andres Sinclaire started to dice with me, so I backed off to try and find some space. I was circulating in the low 1:24 second bracket, which I knew was well off my true pace, but it took me a number of laps to find the time, which eventually came in one big chunk at the chicane, where I gained 0.6 of a second. For the rest of the session I kept chipping away at my time, then backing off to find more space when I messed up a lap. In the end I put in a 1:23.2 second lap, which was good enough for 2nd place on the grid behind Max Robinson.
I was really pleased with the result given the frustrations and relative lack of running the previous week, but slightly frustrated at the same time as my qualifying performance put me in Group B, so I wouldn’t get a chance to race on Saturday. With the rest of the day to kill I contemplated driving home to see the family, but with the paddock party scheduled for that evening and the kind offer of a bed in Mark Forrest’s very smart camper van I decided to faff around with the car, watch some racing and have a few beers. As much as I love watching motor racing I now realise that all I really want to do is go out and compete, so whilst a nice day in many ways it was also slightly frustrating watching my fellow competitors racing without being able to go and join in.
The paddock party that evening was a great affair, with good food, drink and banter with a great bunch of mates. Caterham had brought an F1 and a GP2 car along to display, so we had great fun seeing who could squeeze into Jano Trulli’s seat (not quite my size I have to admit), before retiring to bed. Marks camper was fantastically comfortable and I slept like a log until about 5am when the planes from East Midlands airport started screaming overhead on take-off.
My first race on Sunday was at 11:25, so I spent the morning going over the car again and putting even more fuel in (I had been weighed at 622kg after qualifying, which is a little too close to the minimum weight limit of 620kg for my comfort), before heading off to the holding area to wait for the start. Because Max had raced the day before and wasn’t in my first race, I was given pole position, my first since Snetterton at the start of the year. On the start line I struggled to keep the car from rolling downhill whilst balancing the clutch and throttle for the best possible launch. In the end I made a reasonable get away and led into the first corner, with Stephen Nuttall slotting in behind me from his 4th place grid position.
I led the majority of the first lap, but onto the back straight the inevitable happened and Stephen dragged past me and into the lead. I didn’t fight this as I wanted to get away from the chasing pack and knew that if Steve and I started fighting together we would only slow each other down. I followed Steve for the majority of lap 2, but onto the back straight for the second time I went to drag past him. I got past, but a few corners later he returned the favour. Our scrapping allowed Nick Portlock to close up. Nick came alongside me on the back straight, but going into the Fogarty Esses I held my line and just squeezed around the outside of him. This meant I was slow out onto the start/finish straight and gave Steve an instant 1 – 2 second gap that he set about consolidating. However on lap 5, going into Redgate Steve made a mistake and spun.
For the next 10 laps I worked on building my lead from the chasing pack, treating each lap as though it were a qualifier and focusing on being smooth and consistent. After the early excitement it was a rather lonely and boring race to the finish line 11 seconds clear of 2nd place, with all the action happening some way behind. Whilst pleased with the result, it was something of a comedown after the excitement of the final race at Zandvoort a month beforehand. Still, a win is a win and it would be churlish to complain!
The second race later that afternoon was much better. After more faffing around in the paddock with tyre temperatures, fuel loads and the like, we lined up ready for the third Roadsport race of the weekend (my second). Max Robinson was on pole, with me alongside in 2nd and Pete Fortune and Zoltan Csabai behind us. I made a good start and was battling for the lead of the race with Max, Pete and Zoli at the end of lap 2 when the race was red flagged due to a crash at the Fogarty Esses. Gavin Crawford had spun and an unfortunate Michael Sauer had collected him, causing quite a bit of damage to both cars, but thankfully neither driver.
On the re-start I again struggled to stop the car rolling on the incline and made a bad start, missing my gearchange from 1st to 2nd and putting me back several places. At the end of lap 1 I was 4th behind, Max, Pete and Zoli, but being attacked by Paul Croll and Tony Mingoia. It took me a couple of laps to get back past Paul and until lap 8 to clear Tony. By this time Max, Zoli and Pete were some 4 seconds down the road. I made after them as quickly as I could and caught them on lap 10, just in time to see Zoli spin off at the Old Hairpin. As he spun, I had to lift off, unsure as to which way he was going, losing me a couple of seconds and contact with the leading two. I spent the next coupleof laps chasing them back down and eventually got onto Pete’s tail on lap 13. I stuck to Pete like glue, calculating that I would wait until the last lap to drag past him on the back straight and take 2nd at the finish, but like all the best laid plans it didn’t go quite as expected. Coming onto the back straight for the final time, Pete backed me up in Coppice, but I still got a good run on him. He pulled to the inside to defend his line and I went to the outside. Coming into the Fogarty Esses we were side by side. We both braked as late as we could, but I couldn’t quite get around the outside of him. We both came out of the corner going far slower than usual, but with Pete a nose ahead. He took a very well deserved 2nd and I 3rd. The race had been brilliant, but I had made life very hard for myself by going backwards at the start, then having to battle up from 6th place to 3rd in the end.
With scruitneering complete, podiums and interviews done and the car packed away I said goodbye to my friends and made my way back to my family and normal life. I had found Donington a difficult weekend because my wife had been struggling with the children, who weren’t behaving very well, and we had started talking about the possibility of me having to give up. Whilst this isn’t something I want to do, it is something I feel I might have to if I am to keep my family happy, which ultimately is the most important thing to me. Racing is a wonderful experience, but ultimately a very time consuming and selfish one. I am lucky to have someone that has supported me for a year and a half, despite us having three very young children, and I won’t ever take that for granted. In my mind I am preparing for Donington to have been my last race…if it is then it will have been an unforgettable experience and one I am proud to have some success in.
Zandvoort Test and Race – Friday 07th – Sunday 09th June:
Before booking my testing at Zandvoort I had a dilemma. Thursday the 06th June is my little girl Jemima’s birthday. I could either travel over on Thursday the 06th and be sure of a full days testing on the Friday, but miss part of her birthday and incur the wrath of my family. Or I could enjoy her birthday and get the overnight ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland on Thursday night, but risk missing some of Friday testing. I chose the latter and am very glad I did…her 3rd birthday party was fantastic.
Having watched 20 children destroy my house and garden, I loaded the car up onto the trailer and set of for Harwich. I arrived at 8.30pm ready of for an overnight sailing. As we set off I sat in the bar watching on-board laps of Zandvoort on YouTube hoping it would help make up for the fact that I was likely to miss the first session of testing in the morning. I was then discovered by Andrew Jenkins, one of my fellow Roardsport competitors, who promptly encouraged me to have a few more beers with him thus ruining my carefully planned preparation but ensuring a very sociable evening.
After a restless 5 hours sleep, we docked at the Hook of Holland and I got straight into my race suit and prepared the car (to the extent that the keys were in the ignition) whilst waiting to get off the ferry. At this point I was still hopeful of being able to make part of the first test session. These hopes were rapidly dashed by a delayed disembarkation, slow progress through passport control, and then even slower progress through the early morning Dutch traffic. It took almost 2 hours to complete what Google believes is a 1 hour journey and at various times I started to worry about whether I would even make the second test session, which would be a disaster given there were only 4 sessions available. As it transpired I arrived just in time to ask the boys already at the circuit if they wouldn’t mind unloading my car whilst I ran to race control to sign on.
I was rushing and in a bit of a flap, but once strapped into the car ready for the second session of the day it was time to concentrate on learning a circuit that I had never seen before, but that all of the guys that had been there since Thursday had been raving about. I hooked onto the back of Tristan and followed him around, trying to keep up without putting the car off the track and fell in love with the track immediately. I surprised myself by learning it quickly and feeling comfortable in no time at all, which was just as well, because I got perhaps six laps in that first session due to two red flag stoppages.
The third session was scheduled after lunch, just as the day was getting really hot. During this session I had plenty of track time and worked my times down into the 2min 05s bracket, which was possibly a second off the fastest guys at that time. The session was actually so long that I came off track before it finished as I felt I was cooking the car, the tyres and myself without actually going any quicker (I have found that knowing when to stop and give yourself a breather is an important part of testing).
For the fourth and final session of the day I focused on refining my lines through some of the quicker corners, where I knew there was more time to come. I was now down into the low 2min 04s bracket and very pleased with the progress I had made, so once again pulled off before the end of the session to give the car and myself a break.
Back in the paddock and changed out of my race suit I spent a couple of hours checking the car over and giving it a good clean (it is a sort of ritual for me now). I also changed my wheels and tyres as the days testing had finally killed my old set and I would need some slightly fresher rubber for qualifying and the races. After that Tristan, Scott, Gavin, Tom, Paul, Zoli, Andrew and I all settled in around the BBQ outside Tristan’s camper van and talked rubbish over a few beers and a few kilos of meat. It was the perfect way to end a great day. After which I headed over the road to the hotel for a bath and a good night’s sleep.
Saturday Qualifying and Race 1:
Race day dawned as bright and sunny as the day before. Having signed-on and been scruitineered the previous day and with qualifying scheduled for 11.25am it was a leisurely start with plenty of time for a decent breakfast. Needless to say most of us still arrived at the circuit pretty early and spent the next couple of hours fretting over our cars and what we were going to do in qualifying (the strategy around qualifying being actually really quite important).
In the end Peter Fortune jumped into his car and raced off to the holding area 50 minutes before qualifying was due to start, and like a line of dominos we all followed. As we stood waiting to be called out on track we all laughed at each other and our own competitiveness, which was such that we actually arrived at the holding area before many of those going out in the qualifying session before us. We all wanted to get out onto the track early and into some clear air for a few good runs and hopefully some good times.
I ran with a group of 5 or 6 guys at the front for the majority of the qualifying session and was pleased with the way I was driving. My times seemed to be in the low 2min 04s bracket again and I felt that I was quicker than the day before, so it was a bit disappointing to come off track and find I had qualified in 7thplace. Max Robinson had qualified on pole with a time of 2min 03.6s, using two very good tows during his best lap. Stephen Nuttall was in second place with a 2min 04.0s lap and I was in 7th with a 2min 04.2s lap. It was all very, very close and very dependent on who had managed to get a good tow or not. Regardless of my position I knew that there was going to be plenty of racing to be had, so didn’t feel too worried about the prospect of the race that afternoon.
Once back in the pits it was time to check the car over again, have lunch in the Caterham hospitality area and enjoy the sunshine and racing. Zandvoort really is a great place to be on a sunny summer’s afternoon.
Come the race the nerves returned and I lined up on the start trying to think through my tactics on the run down to turn one. In the end I made a good start a passed Nick Portlock almost immediately, before going around the outside of Michael Coulten into Turn 1 (Tarzanbocht). I was in 5th place and circulating in the middle of the leading 8 cars. Half way through the second lap I passed Simon Bennett going up the inside into Renaultboch. I was 4th and stayed there until lap 5 when I drafted past Max Robinson on the pit straight. By this time our group of 4 cars was a second or two clear from the chasing pack, but not really pulling away as we were squabbling amongst ourselves and slowing each other down slightly.
On lap 7 I went around the outside of Stephen Nuttall into turn 1 for 2nd place and was starting to feel pretty confident. I chased Pete Fortune hard, but made a few small mistakes and never quite got the opportunity I needed. I was also busy trying to deal with a very determined Max, who drafted past me on the straight on lap 9, demoting me to 3rd place. With Max, Stephen and I squabbling over 2nd, 3rd and 4th Pete pulled out a very slight win and won his first ever race. Max finished 2nd and I right behind in 3rd.It had been a brilliant race and lovely to see Pete finally win a race…since the Academy he has consistently been one of the fastest, if not the fastest driver out there and this result was really well deserved. You could tell by his podium celebration that it really meant something to him!
After the race and the usual trip through scruitineering it was back to the paddock to tell tales of the race and go over the car to make sure it was ready for the following day. A few of us had decided to meet for dinner, so after a trip back to the hotel and a well-earned shower we all met up for something to eat and drink on the seafront. A few drinks turned into a few more, then a few more, before finally finishing in the hotel bar at 3am. Thankfully my attempts to get everyone to go to Amsterdam for the night were scuppered by a lack of available designated drivers! It had been a brilliant day, with a real holiday atmosphere that everyone was clearly enjoying.
Sunday Race 2:
Sunday dawned cloudy and overcast after the beautiful sunshine of Saturday. Thankfully we weren’t racing until mid-afternoon, so I was able to get up late, have a big breakfast and take my time. I got to the paddock around lunchtime and still had plenty of time to go over the car and get myself prepared. With a 3rd place starting position on the grid I felt confident for the coming race, having now gained an even better understanding of the track. I felt that I had over driven the car the previous day and that I needed to be smoother and more controlled to extract that little extra speed that might have seen me catch Pete the day before. I didn’t want to make the same mistake again.
As the lights fell at the start I couldn’t have predicted the excitement that was to unfold. I made another good start and went straight past Max before turn 1, slotting in behind Pete and following him closely for the first lap. I wanted to be smooth and controlled and not try to race to hard right from the start, but as we came onto the pit straight for lap 2 Stephen and Max both drafted past me. I braked late into turn 1 and went back around the outside of Max, so went from 2nd, to 4th, to 3rd again in a few hundred meters….the scrapping had already started. So much for my plan!
On the 4th lap Max and Michael Coulten both drafted past me on the pit straight pushing me down into 5th place and allowing Tony Mingoia to climb all over the back of me. On the start finish straight the next lap he came past me, pushing me down to 6th and making me feel as though I were getting mugged. I was going backwards, so clearly my plan wasn’t working!
I braked very late for turn 1 and drove around the outside of Tony, allowing me to hold onto 6th place and then a couple of corners later Michael Coulten kindly went off-roading at Hugenholtsbocht promoting me to 4th place again. At the start of lap 8 I was in 4th place, but getting a good tow and braking as late as I dared into turn 1 I went around the outside of Pete and Max (and very nearly Stephen as well). Stephen held me off until the beginning of lap 9 when I got in his tow and went past him into the lead…this was more like it.
However it was still unbelievably close and surely enough a lap later both Stephen and Pete drafted past me on the start finish straight pushing me back into 3rd place again...the racing was getting more and more intense as the laps to the finish counted down. Later that lap at Renaultbocht Pete made a mistake and ran wide and Stephen kindly followed him, allowing me to drive up the inside and regain the lead. This would be a lead I would hold for a whole 4 corners, before Steve once again passed me on the pit straight, demoting me once again to 2nd place. Steve however had run slightly wide allowing me to nip back up the inside at turn 1. We then proceeded to run into turn 2 (Gerlachbocht) side by side. There really isn’t room for 2 cars here and it was getting very tight, so I backed out first and let Stephen have the corner. What I hadn’t realised at the time was that Max was actually on the other side of Stephen, half on the grass, and we were trying to go three into a corner that really only has room for 1 car at a time.
I emerged 2nd and followed Stephen closely, trying to plan where to make my move. We were now on the last lap and I wanted to be first out onto the pit straight as I didn’t think I could draft by him for a win. I chose my moment coming into turn 10 (The Audi S) and came alongside, but Stephen came across and drove for the apex, leaving me nowhere to go. I had to brake as hard as I could, but just tapped his rear wing with my front wheel. He went straight on into the gravel, but re-emerged at a rather jaunty angle as we were exiting the corner, pushing me out wide. All of this had allowed Max and Pete to close right in and Pete nipped past as I was trying to recover the car. Two corners from the end and I was in 3rd again…this wasn’t going to plan, but as we drove out of the final corner (Arie Luyendijkbocht) I got into Pete’s tow. Pete was in Stephens tow and Max was in mine. At the last second we all dived out of the tow and as we crossed the line, 4 cars together, we were separated 1st to 4th place by 0.1 seconds.
Stephen had held onto the lead by 0.035 seconds, from me in 2nd and Pete in 3rd 0.01 of a second behind me. It had been an unbelievable race and so close that as Stephen, Pete and I pulled into the pit lane none of us knew who had got what position. Despite coming 2nd when I felt I could have won, I was extatic….it had been the most exciting race I have ever taken part in and my heart still races at the thought of it.
It had been a phenomenal way to end a brilliant weekend. The holiday atmosphere had been fantastic and the racing sensational (Jenny came up to us at the end of our second race and showed us her notebook, which now had teeth marks in after the final few laps of our race). So it was with a heavy heart that I packed my things away and headed back to the UK for work. An overnight ferry with a group of the Roadsport boys helped to delay the feeling of the inevitable, but all too soon I was back to work and thinking about the next race….roll on Donington in July!